Disney World 2018
My husband and I just got back from a quick trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. It was wonderful, but far too short! We stayed at two different resorts, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort. I will review our experience at both locations.
Hotel Review: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jambo House for three nights. It was absolutely beautiful. We have extremely high standards when it comes to accommodations and for me, this resort did not disappoint -- for one main reason, that I will get to in a minute.
The lobby was stunning. It was large, but still felt intimate because of all of the seating areas, the large fire pit, dim lighting and great attention to detail.
There were intricate carvings everywhere and impressive displays of African art. It felt more like we had been transported to an African getaway, rather than a gimmicky, themed resort. This is a huge testament to Disney. They could have very easily gone over the top here but at no time did I sense that during our stay.
We stayed in a Savannah View room, which cost a little over $100 more a night than a standard view but it was without a doubt worth it.
Unfortunately, I never got a good shot of our room - but this picture from the Disney website looks exactly like our room. We had two queen beds, a tv (which didn't work) and a small table with two chairs in the corner.
Upon walking in the room, on the lefthand side there was a toilet and decent sized shower in a tight room. Outside of the room was a marble vanity with double sinks and plenty of counter space. On the door of the bathroom there was a full length mirror. There was antiqued wallpaper with an African travel motif in this area, which I though added a nice bit of interest and made the room feel more special.
Here you can see the wallpaper and carpet (don't mind me, just being a touristy safari guest headed to Animal Kingdom Park). I'm not typically a huge fan of the brown color family but I felt this room was done in a way that was warm and rich, while remaining comfortable. I especially liked the crisp white of the bedding against all of the brown tones that were present in the room.
Another thing I think is worth mentioning is that there were plenty of hand towels, wash cloths, bath towels and really good sized toiletries. These are important details that set apart a good hotel from a great hotel.
But I haven't gotten to my favorite part of the room yet and the main reason why I felt this resort met my high expectations.
THE BALCONY! Oh my goodness, this was incredible. It wasn't a verge large balcony- just large enough for two chairs and a small patio table. But the view was everything. As I mentioned earlier, we paid for a room with a savannah room and I swear, we got the best view in the whole resort. Every day, at almost any time of day, we could see at least two different kinds of animals. We regularly had three giraffes right outside our balcony, two zebras and two grey crowned cranes. We also saw ankle cattle, white-bearded wildebeest, roan antelope, scimitar-horned oryx, addax, eland, ostrich, impala, Thomson's gazelle and various birds. This was all just from our balcony! Elsewhere on the property, you could see even more animals, for a total of 30 different species of wildlife on site!
My favorite moment of our vacation was on the first morning when my alarm went off at 5:45 am for no reason. On a whim, I decided to step out on the balcony and there were three giraffes front and center. I spent a half hour just looking at them, marveling at this experience that I would never have anywhere else (at least in North America).
Now onto the rest of the property:
There are two resorts that make up Animal Kingdom Lodge: Jambo House and Kidani Village. Kidani Village is a short shuttle ride away and offers additional animal viewings and restaurants.
At Jambo House, you will find one Quick Service dining option, one buffet restaurant (breakfast and dinner only), a pool bar, two lounges and one upscale restaurant. Room service is also available.
In the way of recreation, you will find an 11,000 square foot swimming pool, two secluded hot tubs and one wading pool, a playground, a gift shop, an arcade, a campfire and movies under the stars. You also have access to Kidani Village which offers another pool and more forms of recreation. Important to note, starting in Fall 2018, the pool at Jambo House will be closed for refurbishment. Again, visitors will have access to the pool at Kidani Village, but it is a slight inconvenience.
The cast members (aka staff) that we encountered at Animal Kingdom Lodge were friendly and seemed genuinely happy. My one service complaint was that one day we were in and out of our room a few times, so room service seemed to miss us. But on my way out a room service worker stopped me and offered me new towels. Upon telling her I was leaving the room and she could get in, she said it was a busy day and just gave me the towels. I would expect a little more from a Deluxe Resort.
Other important details:
Disney classifies Animal Kingdom Lodge as a Deluxe Resort (they offer Value, Moderate and Deluxe resorts to choose from). Deluxe resorts generally start at around $345/night. This is a large jump in price from the Moderate level, but after reading my review of Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, you will see I believe there is a huge difference in quality, as well.
On a scale from 1-10, I would rate our stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge as a 7/10.
Would I stay here again? Yes, especially after the refurbishments are made to the pool area (I've also heard some rooms may be getting renovated, as well).
Hotel Review: Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
We stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort: Aruba for one night. This was an add-on night made just a little over a week before we went on vacation, simply because we wanted to enjoy one more full day at the parks.
I chose this resort because it is listed in the Moderate category, we were looking to save some money and we love the Caribbean.
On the Disney website, it is noted that construction is taking place at the resort but I will tell you, I was not prepared for the amount of construction that was going on! It was noisy and unattractive.
The resort is spread out over five "islands"- Jamaica, Martinique, North Trinidad, South Trinidad and Aruba. All of the "islands" are supposed to be united by the 45 acre Barefoot Bay. But due to how spread out all of the buildings truly are, you need to take an internal bus to get from one place to another, including The Custom House, where you check in and out, etc. This was incredibly inconvenient. At the end of a long day, the last thing I want to do is get off one bus to get on another that is making multiple stops, picking up and dropping off more people.
We were supposed to be able to check in at 3 pm (this is the check in time across all of the Disney resorts, but we were able to get into our room at Animal Kingdom before 1 pm). We got a notification that our room wasn't ready at 1:40 pm and were told we would be notified again when it was ready. AKL had shipped our bags to the resort, so we were able to leave AKL and go straight to Disney Springs. But it was now after 3 pm and we were more than ready to get into our room and get freshened up before our dinner reservation.
So we got on a bus and headed to the resort. We still had no idea the resort was split up into different sections so we simply got off the bus at the resort. We quickly realized the resort appeared to be made up of multiple motels and had no idea where to go to find out what our room number was or where it was located. After walking for several minutes, we found some people and asked where to go. They sent us to the closest island's "concierge"- really just a motel room converted into a small office space. They informed us they could not check us in. By this point, I was pretty frustrated. I told them I checked in online but we were notified our room wasn't ready. This made a difference and the woman was able to tell us our room number.
We had to get on a bus again and then trek to our room. I cannot explain this place other than to say there was definitely a different "vibe" at this resort.
Our room felt very much like a cheap motel room. The curtains, air conditioning unit, lights and colors all felt dated.
The room was clean and my husband was impressed with the quality of the tv. We also noticed the tile flooring in the bathroom area appeared new. The one thing I did like about the room were the sliding doors that provided some privacy in the bathroom area. For a small room and an open layout, this was definitely a thoughtful solution. These doors also lent a bit of a Caribbean feel to the suite.
One big difference I noticed between this resort and AKL was the toiletries (as I noted before, I think this is one of those "small things" that set good hotels apart from great ones). On the bathroom counter there was one bar of face soap one bottle of body lotion. When I looked in the shower, I found three mounted pump bottles: shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Now I understand that many hotels are going to this new way of providing toiletries as a way to cut down on waste but this really turns me off. I would be worried about the items being tampered with and I do not like the idea of touching something that hundreds of other people have touched when I am trying to get clean.
Now onto the rest of the property:
As I mentioned previously, the resort is undergoing extensive construction. Here is Disney's description of what parts of the resort are closed and what is still available:
I suppose considering all of these things, now was not the best time to review the Caribbean Beach Resort. But I think it is also worth noting that the demolition of buildings on property are not all for the purpose of improving this resort. There is another resort being built on the property that will be for Disney Vacation Club members. In my mind, that will make this resort even less appealing -- more people in a shared space and a brand new resort right next door to a very dated one. I will be curious to see how it all turns out!
One unique option this resort offers is the option to choose (and pay more for) a pirate themed room. For young kids, this could be worth it to make the experience more magical.
In the way of recreation, you will find 6 swimming pools; one pool at each of the "islands" and one feature pool, Fuentes del Morro. The five island pools look like something you'd find at any motel- concrete, old lounge chairs, no character. The feature pool is definitely designed with kids in mind. It has a colonial Spanish fortress theme, with two water slides and a pirate shipwreck play area. There are also playgrounds and "beaches" available. The beaches are sandy, with a few hammocks and lounge chairs. But you cannot access the water at these beaches (they are roped off, with signs warning of alligators). In essence, these are just there for looks.
The cast members (aka staff) that we encountered at the Caribbean Beach were seemed tired and were generally less friendly than the staff at AKL.
Other important details:
Disney classifies the Caribbean Beach as a Moderate Resort (they offer Value, Moderate and Deluxe resorts to choose from). Moderate resorts generally start at around $172/night. The difference in price between Value and Moderate is not nearly as great as the difference in price between Moderate and Deluxe. I would be curious to see what the difference in quality would be, as I was seriously not impressed with this Moderate Resort.
On a scale from 1-10, I would rate our stay at Caribbean Beach Resort as a 3/10.
Would I stay here again? No. I did not like the layout of the resort and the overall feel was very different from what I have come to expect in a Disney experience.
Advantages to staying directly on Disney properties:
Disney provides service to and from the airport. This is called Magical Express. You can skip baggage claim upon arrival (Disney will get your bags for you!) and you can check your bags at the resort and head straight to security when it is time to fly home. This was such a huge help!
Transport to/from all parks, Disney Springs and resorts included. For us, this involved taking busses but at some resorts they also have a monorail and/or boat services. They are also currently building a gondola system between a few of the resorts and parks.
No need to worry about parking or associated fees (you don't need a car).
Extra Magic Hours - one or more of the parks will open early and/or stay open late just for Disney resort guests!